Midsummer Mechanical’s review – The cheeky players of dreams deliver more merriment

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Last summer, Shakespeare’s Globe reopened after the pandemic closure with a party-popper version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with water guns, a piñata donkey and a hilarious Pyramus and Thisbe. This summer, the theater has come up with a bright idea for its indoor playhouse. What if, a year after the events of that play, the mechanics were back to perform again for the Duke and Duchess, this time with a “less tragic, more magical” show to celebrate their first anniversary?

Liberating Bottom and co from Shakespeare’s play appeals to my eight-year-old daughter, Hilda, as we head there. She has seen the dream on TV and thinks it is “more confusing than Diana Wynne Jones”. Aimed at over-fives, Midsummer Mechanicals is presented by the Globe and Splendid Productions, whose artistic director, Kerry Frampton, co-wrote (with Ben Hales), co-directed (with Lucy Cuthbertson) and lovably silly host as Bunn. With caterpillar eyebrows and bushy sideburns, Frampton makes the young audience feel at home. Ribbons are tied around the theater’s pillars and silky silk hangs over the stage. Although “it is not very comfortable, isn’t it?” Hilda murmurs as she gets used to the playhouse’s tight benches.

The script sets the dream’s themes and story in motion, resulting in the mechanic’s performance of The Adventures of the Weaver and the Fairy Queen. The first half is backstage drama, as Bottom, Peter Quince, Francis Flute and Patience (Tom’s wife) Snut stiffen up for their performance; the set is then transformed into play-within-the-play in the second half.

Sensible Stupid … Kerry Frampton as Bottom in Midsummer Mechanicals.

Sensible Stupid … Kerry Frampton as Bottom in Midsummer Mechanicals. Photo: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

I think the first half drags a bit, but Hilda disagrees. As a fan of The Play That Goes Wrong, she also enjoys similar am-dram gags as the show is undone through out-of-order lines, spy pretensions and gaffes. Bottom has some nice malapropisms as he boasts about his drama of “historical impotence”; the audience is required to rally the jittery Quince (a richly warm performance from Jamal Franklin); and this time it’s Flute (bombastically funny Sam Glen) who will also play the lion, trying to get spare parts. Hilda thinks Flute’s Fairy Queen is a hoot, but the character this audience really gets behind is Patience (Melody Brown, detonating her deadpan aside). You sense their outrage at the very idea that she, as a woman, is not allowed to perform on stage.

References abound to other plays, including King Lear and Hamlet, and Hilda likes the bear’s chase from The Winter’s Tale, with the creature almost swinging off the side of the stage. “It’s like Romeo and Juliet!” she whispers as we get a recap from Pyramus and Thisbe. Older viewers will recognize references to the dream’s darker themes, including captivity.

This playhouse is a place for young audiences to fall in love with the performing arts, and Bottom’s opening speech really gets us thinking about the space. Hilda likes Rose Revitt’s design (especially the forest in the second half) and is fascinated by the use of trapdoors. She likes the way Bottom weaves in and out of the audience and how we contribute weather effects and lines to the cheerful folk songs. Bottom’s hopeless adoration of spectacle is overwhelmed, but the sense of wonder at these performances is evident in the young audience, who rightly find the latest gag irresistibly rude.

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